North Korea’s renewed determination to test an ICBM comes at a delicate time in the region, with a new, more hawkish president, conservative Yoon Suk-yeol, set to take control in South Korea.

Yoon – who has threatened Pyongyang with a pre-emptive strike and promised to tell “rude boy” Kim to behave – looks set to take a hard line with the North after five years under dovish liberal President Moon Jae-in.

But this approach is likely to lead to a cycle of escalation that will ratchet up tensions, Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told AFP.

Launches will be met with fresh sanctions, to which “Pyongyang will likely respond by test-firing more weapons”.

North Korea paused its tests to “make room for diplomacy and avoid further sanctions”, but always kept working on diversifying its missiles, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Eventually, “in order to ensure accuracy and reentry capability, such weapons need to be tested”, he said.

Masking these as satellite tests can help them to “buy time” to develop what they need to launch an ICBM, said Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean studies scholar, told AFP.

And Pyongyang has a clear deadline: North Korea will mark the 110th anniversary of the birth of founding leader and Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung in April and likes to mark key domestic anniversaries with military parades or launches.

“It’s very likely that North Korea is going to test-fire an ICBM on April 15 for Kim Il Sung’s birthday,” Ahn said.

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